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Plantation youth need access to skills training

This is a reluctant response to the bureaucratic rumblings and poor attempts by some parties to cover-up the disgrace of not a single Indian student being included for the first intake to the NTS Arumugam Pillai Skills Trainning Centre in Nibong Tebal.

It is nothing short of shame that a defining part of the community's heritage should have been given up in exchange for a zero benefit to the community.

But what might be more useful at this stage is to ascertain whether any lessons can be learnt from this woeful experience. S Nagarajan's article has established that the South Indian Labour Fund was liquidated on the initiative of the MIC.

It is also well known that the intention was to sell the property and to credit the proceeds to government revenue which could then be drawn on upon for the 'welfare' of the Indians.

For a political party seeking funds to adopt such a short-term strategy of disbursing immediately 'welfare' funds to its members - rather than investing in longer term skills-based training - is understandable. This hardly needs elaboration.

But in this particular instance it is totally unacceptable because the party concerned has never had a policy outlining a nationwide skills-based training programme (let alone a single training centre) for youth from the plantations.

In fact, considering the existing social structure of the plantation community where there are no jobs other than for lowly paid rubber tapping and palm oil cultivation, such a short-term strategy is tantamount to neglect.

This is particularly the case for plantation youth and women who now find themselves at the receiving end of so-called 'development projects'. In fact, this situation is particularly devastating at Nibong Tebal where there is a high incidence of plantation conversion for 'development'.

Indeed my humble research revealed one instance where an entire plantation was 'developed' for a golf course!

With respect, I believe the time is appropriate for a total re-appraisal of the available opportunities for skills-based training (including Information Communication Technology) for all plantation communities (including smallholders) throughout Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah.

For such an exercise to take place there needs to be the political will to begin with. If that is there, then the effort could perhaps begin with the restructuring of the existing colonial-based plantation system.

Indeed, it may not be too far-fetched to suggest that such an exercise be linked to the listing proposal for Felda settlers which is currently on hold.